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MA Board Of Education OKs Mask Mandate In Schools

Massachusetts Board of Education
Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has granted Commissioner Jeffrey Riley the authority to temporarily mandate masks in schools. The board cited the delta variant of COVID-19 in its decision Tuesday, as well as the rise in cases across the country.

The move is a policy shift from Governor Charlie Baker, who had insisted it was a decision best left to local school leaders. Under the protocol, Riley says students and staff at K-12 schools would be required to mask up through October 1.

"After which time, we will begin to look for off-ramps on masking in schools, beginning with those students and staff who are vaccinated, in schools that have at least an 80 percent overall vaccination rate," Riley detailed at Tuesday's meeting. "This does not mean that vaccinations will be the sole determinant for unmasking, but if vaccinations were to increase among those eligible, especially now that the FDA has fully approved the Pfizer vaccine, that would be great."

Shortly before the vote, board member Matt Hills expressed his confidence in Riley's plan. He calls it a "straightforward" decision.

"The leaders that we have, both selected, like our commissioner, and elected, have done exactly what we should want them to do in leading us through this pandemic, which isn't over yet," he adds. "It may not be as bad as it was a year ago, or half a year ago, but it's a whole lot worse than if we had no pandemic. And it's a whole lot worse than it hopefully will be half a year or a year from now."

Riley says there will be medical and behavioral exemptions to the mask mandate. In New York, Governor Kathy Hochul has said she believes the state has the authority to impose a similar mandate.